The recent murder of Karabo Mokoena and burning of her body by a man who supposedly loved her has left country outraged and left her family traumatised. No woman or human being deserves such cruelty. It must rank as the highest form of betrayal – to be killed by the person you love and who supposedly loves you.
And no parent should go through such pain. Our children remain our babies and to be told your baby has been murdered and burnt must be the most painful experience ever. My heart goes out to Karabo’s parents, Lolo and Tshepo Mokoena.
This case once more demonstrates the depravity of some of our men. Karabo's is just but one case among many crimes committed against women, including the murders, kidnappings and disappearances of girls and women in a context of what seems to be an acceptance of gender-based violence.
There was Pretoria model Zanele Khumalo, 18, who was five months' pregnant when she was murdered by her boyfriend and the father of her unborn child, Thato Kutumela. Then there was Reeva Steenkamp, killed by her Paralympian boyfriend Oscar Pistorius. Businessman Christopher Panayiotou allegedly masterminded his wife's killing and contracted Luthando Siyoli for the murder.
And the body of Fatima Choonara, 28, was found in her Polokwane home after what was believed to be a robb
ery. Her husband was later arrested for her murder. The list is endless.
If the perpetrators had not faced charges, one would be tempted to say this is indicative of institutional collapse where a fractured rule of law favours impunity. But the reality is that some of these perpetrators have been arrested, charged and sentenced. What then is wrong?
The reality is that gender-based violence is a crime of power – one that seeks to uphold patriarchal laws and control the female body in the framework of historically unequal power structures between men and women. It is a problem that belongs to society and therefore a crime by society. We all must face up to this crime and address it in our different spheres of operation – in education, the workplace, in our religious institutions, in our homes, in our laws and in just about every sphere of society.
But that will need to be preceded by the creation of awareness in society as a whole as to the severity of the problem. This is not a problem of women; it is our problem and has reached crisis proportions. According to Statistics SA’s 2016 Demographic and Health Survey, one in every five South Africa women older than 18 has experienced physical violence. Four in 10 divorced or separated women reported physical violence.
Sector dialogues on this issue and sector specific interventions are needed. For example, there needs to be an appreciation of how the school curriculum, both overt and hidden, may be contributing to gender discrimination. The education sector must interrogate some of its content and practices. There are schools where girls are not safe by reason of behaviour by male students and teachers. We have seen how even universities have at times failed to be safe spaces for female staff and students. There needs to be a dialogue in that sector.
What about the portrayal of women in the media and communications industry in general? The objectification of women’s bodies is still prevalent in our mass media. To what extent does such portrayal contribute to men feeling a woman’s body is to be owned or controlled? We need a gender sensitive communication and marketing industry. The messages that advertisers use to market products can fuel gender norms. For such a ubiquitous industry, gender sensitive cannot be a by-the-way.
And then there is the issue of religion and gender. Religions all over the world are known for opposing women’s autonomy and any space for change, resulting in direct or indirect controls over gender and the curbing of women’s rights. They normalize the inequalities within their institutions and doctrines and give their patriarchal policies divine justification by quoting from their holy texts. As the religious sector, we need our own dialogue about the negative impacts that some of our beliefs have had on women, at times contributing to the violence they suffer in society.
Such sector specific dialogues, perhaps culminating in a national cross sector summit, might be the beginning of society addressing this problem with the seriousness it deserves.
In conclusion, although much progress has been made in terms of legislation, government should have the political will to treat violence against women as a specific phenomenon relating to the society. In this regard, it must enact legislative reforms in order to provide social information and facilitate access to the judicial system for women who are victims of gender-based violence. One would like to see the strengthening of the rule of law and the judicial processes against perpetrators of violence against women from police investigations up to the carrying out of sentences.
We must all stand up and be counted, special men from all walks of all and sing with one strong voice #NOTINMYNAME.
PASTOR RAY McCAULEY IS THE PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES AND CO-CHAIRPERSON OF NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS COUNCIL (NRLC)